Fire Emblem Fates Birthright: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from Kotaku

Hey look, a rare gaming post!

As good as Nintendo’s 2017 was, 2018 has been a bit underwhelming thus far, at least in terms of new Switch content. With neither Kirby Star Allies nor Nintendo Labo catching my interest, I find myself leaning more and more on the 3DS’s back catalog to fill the void. This is not a bad thing, however, as it’s allowed me to dive into some Nintendo franchises that I had been curious about in the past, but not actually had the time to try out.

The latest of these series has been Fire Emblem, a tactical RPG series that piggybacked on the success of Super Smash Brothers to expand its reach outside of Japan in the early 2000s. A quick scan of the Internet indicated that Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright was a good option for series beginners, so I went ahead and took the plunge. What I found was a fun, usually-interesting, sometimes-bizarre tactical JRPG with some stellar character development and some unconventional world-building options.

My specific thoughts are as follows:

  • Before Fire Emblem, my only experience with tactical RPGs was a brief stint playing Final Fantasy Tactics, but I found the extra geographical dimension quite refreshing coming off of standard RPG setups like Pokémon Ultra Sun and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. At its core, you and the enemy take turns moving your heroes around the map like chess pieces, engaging in pitched battles when opposing forces meet. While the fights themselves are quick and automated, choosing who, when, and where to battle is a complex question:
    • Should I charge the enemy lines, or wait and let them come to me?
    • What weapon should I use? (The game has a rock-scissors-paper weapon triad with a helpful Pokémon-style color-coding: Blue beats red, green beats blue, red beats green.)
    • Should I use a melée or ranged attack?
    • Should I send more beast-based units into battle, or rely on foot soldiers?
    • Should I place two units in adjacent squares for more offense, or should they pair up for a more-defensive stance?
    • Can Ryoma really take those three units on by himself? (The answer was usually “yes.” Seriously, that dude is super OP.)

The game gives you plenty of time and space to learn how best to battle, but don’t get too comfortable: The game has an annoying habit of one-shotting your units when you stretch your force too thin. (Also, you’d better enjoy the tactical combat setup, because that’s 90% of what you’ll do in the game.) All in all, it’s a decent challenge that never feels overwhelming.

  • The big twist of the FE Fates series is the choice of which side the player will actually fight on: Their Hoshidan blood relatives, or the Nohrians that raised them? It’s a weighty choice, and the game does a nice job making characters in both families interesting and sympathetic…but if you bought a physical copy of the game, the choice is already made for you: Birthright players are stuck with Hoshido, Conquest players are stuck with Nohr. (Apparently the digital copy actually lets you pick a side, and locks you into whichever version corresponds to your choice.) After all the buildup of the prologue, not actually having a choice is a letdown, so be sure you’re aware of that going in.
  • On the surface, the story is fairly boilerplate: Once you pick a side, you slowly cut a path through the opposing kingdom until you knock it over (or apparently take on the villain pulling the strings behind the scenes in Fire Emblem Fates Yellow…er, Revelation.) Things tend to progress is a more-or-less linear fashion, although there are “Challenge” options in between each chapter of the story that let you gain some extra XP and beat down some extra enemies.
  • If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my gaming preferences, it’s that character development is king…and these characters are fantastic. The most impressive feature of FE Fates is that despite having to create a zillion characters to fill up your roster, the vast majority of them are well-designed and unique enough to stand out from their peers. Even cooler, characters that interact on the battlefield often enough will form Miitopia-style relationships, capped off with some well-done vignettes that can be either touching, tense, or funny as all heck. (Watching Silas introduce super-serious Rinkah to a game of tag was the most I’d laughed in months.) Supposedly there are some battlefield benefits to these relationships as well, but I’ve never actually noticed them— I just like watching the characters interact. 🙂
  • Of course, having lots of characters is important if you’re going to end up losing them all the time. Fire Emblem‘s main calling card was basically being Nuzlocke before Nuzlocke was cool: At the default difficulty level, characters who die in battle are permanently lost from the game. I personally can’t stand this sort of thing, so I play only on Casual mode (fallen units return after the battle), but for those of you looking for an extra challenge, this option certainly raises the stakes and force you to play a bit more defensively.
  • In between battles, you have the opportunity to customize your own castle, where you can buy items, upgrade weapons, and talk to other characters. Where it never detracts from the gameplay, I never found that it added much either—since there’s no explorable world map, it’s just a convenient place to hang out in between battles.
  • The reason I used the phrase “sometimes-bizarre” early in the post is that at times, FE Fates comes off like a hypersexualized playable anime. Physical beauty seems to have been a huge part of many characters’ designs (some more than others…*cough* Camilla *cough*), and there’s a castle “hot springs” option you can build that seems to serve no purpose beyond letting you see characters in their underwear. (At least the game objectifies males and females equally: The men here are generally dreamboats and can be creeped on just as much as the women.) Character relationships can eventually bloom into full-fledged romances and marriages, and characters can even have children…who are shipped to another dimension for safekeeping…where they age faster than their parents…and eventually join your army? (I don’t get it either, but when the kid ends up kicking as much tail as Kana does, I’m cool with that.) While I wouldn’t say that any of this weirdness detracts from your enjoyment of this game, it’s certainly a jarring transition from something like Mario & Luigi.

Honestly, I’ve found FE Fates Birthright to be an engrossing game that suits the 3DS well, letting you squeeze in a few battles here and there as your schedule permits. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and raise an eyebrow at times, but it’s a well-executed design and concept, and a great way to introduce you to one of Nintendo’s slightly-less-heralded franchises.

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Mario & Luigi: Which One Is Most Worth Buying?

Does more Marios mean more fun? (Image From PCMag)

For better or for worse, the calling card of the Mario & Luigi series has been its consistency: Every entry features solid RPG action, a dash of platforming and puzzling, and some of the sharpest writing in gaming, but also generic environments, mediocre minigames, and gimmicky hardware-based battle types that detract from the overall experience. You could argue that all five are the same game, but it’s an unfair reduction of what’s proven to be a high-quality (and profitable) series. Much like with recent Kirby games, you might not be surprised by what you play, but you will be amused and entertained.

I’ve had enough fun with the series that I’d recommend trying out every entry if you get the chance (yes, even given my recent rant about Bowser’s Inside Story). This, however, is an expensive proposition—which entry offers the best combination of fun and value? After an exhaustive-but-unscientific survey, we here at Kyle’s Korner have ranked each game in terms of its quality and availability. Where did your favorite end up?

Image from Nintendo-Okie

#5: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story

  • Gameplay Rank: 5th out of 5
  • Availability: Scarce (until 2019)

Again, this probably isn’t a surprise given my earlier rant. Simply put, Bowser’s Inside Story just didn’t hook me: Its story wasn’t compelling, playing as Bowser wasn’t novel, and the “giant Bowser” touchscreen battles were so frustrating that I put the game down and didn’t pick it back up for several years. While I’m in the minority on this one (it seems like most people regard Bowser’s Inside Story as one of the series’s best, not its worst), the fact that a) it’s relatively hard to find, b) it’s selling for a small fortune on Amazon, and c) a shiny new remake is due next year means that buying this game today is a terrible idea. If you’re going to subject yourself to this one, at least wait until 2019 to do so.

Image from wallscover.com

#4: Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time

  • Gameplay Rank: 4th out of 5
  • Availability: Scarce

Partners In Time deserves a lot of credit for being the only game in history to make baby Mario characters useful and kinda-sorta sympathetic, but to be honest, this one didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. The fact that it was a GBA port was painfully obvious (the DS touchscreen was used exactly once, in the least interesting way possible), and the whole ‘alien invasion’ angle felt a bit generic (the Shroobs were a far cry from the Smithy Gang)

Image from YouTube

#3: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

  • Gameplay Rank: 2nd out of 5
  • Availability: Reasonable

There’s a lot to like about Paper Jam: Adding Paper Mario and battle cards brought a new level of strategy to the fight scenes, the annoying giant Bowser/Luigi fights were replaced with flawed-but-enjoyable papercraft battles, and the interactions between flat and three-dimensional characters were loaded with charm. Someone has to sit in the middle seat, however, and  Paper Jam wound up being overshadowed by not standing out in either quality or value.

Image from Rocket Chainsaw

#2: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

  • Gameplay Rank: 3rd out of 5
  • Availability: Abundant

Dream Team certainly has its strengths (lot of cameos from old friends and enemies, Dream World battles that mix up the combat, strong use of the 3DS’s 3D feature), but it’s squarely in the middle of the pack when it comes to gameplay. As a Nintendo Select that seems to be in every store I frequent, however, Dream Team is a cheap and easy way to introduce yourself to the M&L franchise. It isn’t the best game in the series, but as of right now, it’s the most cost-effective.

Image From YouTube

#1: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

  • Gameplay Rank: 1st out of 5
  • Availability: Abundant

Once again, it seems that nothing beats the original: Superstar Saga was a straightforward RPG experience that featured memorable characters (and quotes), challenging battles, and none of the frustrating gimmicks that appeared in later entries. As useless as Bowser’s Minions is, the remake put the game back on store shelves in large quantities last year, and while it’s twice the price of Dream Team, the jump in quality is worth the added cost. If you didn’t get to experience this classic on the Game Boy Advance, now’s your chance to do so.

Of course, this is just one man’s opinion on the subject, and ranking these games is like trying to rank Pokémon generations: You’re going to enjoy yourself no matter which one you play, so what are you waiting for? Try one out already!

My Thoughts On Nintendo’s March 2018 Direct

Sometimes a tweet is worth a thousand words:

Nintendo’s last direct felt a bit underwhelming, as it included very few games that piqued my interest and left out several important pieces of information. I declared the whole thing to be as sleep-inducing as Chris Young’s latest single, and implored Nintendo to put on a better show the next time around. Judging by the reactions I saw on Twitter yesterday (including my own), it’s safe to say Nintendo pulled it off.

My overall feeling is that yesterday’s direct was a success on a number of different levels. It featured a bunch of high-profile first-party announcements, included a number of prominent third-party releases, addressed the future of both the Switch and 3DS (and spoke volumes about Nintendo’s support strategy for its older handheld going forward), suggested how Wii U ports might be handled going forward, was structured perfectly to build momentum and excitement as it went on, and featured the big splash (two of them, really) at the end to bring down the house. It was a brilliant display of marketing and presentation skills, and it left quite an impression on the crowd.

Here are my specific thoughts broken down by game:

  • WarioWare Gold: I thought this was initially a port, but it’s actually a brand-new game in the series featuring both new and classic minigames to play. I’m not really interested in WarioWare, but it’s nice to see Nintendo placate another starving fanbase with a new game, and it feels like the sort of low-risk, quick-turnaround title that’s going to characterize 3DS games going forward.
  • Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers: This one piqued my interest more than I expected. It’s a strange fusion of Star Fox GuardMiitopia, and Mario Kart‘s battle mode where you and a collection of Mii-flavored helpers have to beat down enemies both on the battlefield and on the track. I’m not quite sold enough to buy the game right now, but I just might pick up the demo when it comes out in May.
  • Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey: This game, on the other hand, annoyed me more than I expected because it has no reason to exist. I thought the remake of M&L: Superstar Saga was pointless and unnecessary, but you could make the argument that as a Game Boy Advance game, at least you could finally play the game on the 3DS. As a DS title, Bowser’s Inside Story has no such excuse. (I know old copies of the game are selling for a mint on Amazon, but if that’s the main concern, why not just re-release the original game on the 3DS eShop? And if we’re really going down this road, can’t we at least go in order and get an M&L: Partners In Time remake first?) This game is arguably my least favorite entries in the series, and Bowser Jr.’s Journey looks like a copy of the pointless Bowser’s Minions mode from the M&L: SS remake. Nothing about this announcement makes me happy.
  • Detective Pikachu: Detective Pikachu’s character design is excellent, and I’m always in favor of exploring the complexities of people/Pokémon relationships. I’m not terribly excited by this game, but I can definitely see its charm, and wouldn’t begrudge people for trying it out. (An XL amiibo is not more useful than a regular one, though.)
  • Luigi’s Mansion: Hey, a remake I can actually get behind! I never played the original Gamecube version of this game, and have been mulling over buying its Dark Moon sequel for a while, so I might take a flyer on this one. Also, it looks like ports are going to be a central theme for the 3DS going forward.
  • Kirby Star Allies: I’m still on the fence about this game, but adding more capturable villians and bringing back some old friends from the past (Rick! Gooey!) is a brilliant move, and leaves the door open for even more fan favorites (Nago? Adeleine? Susie?).
  • Okami HD: I’ve never heard of this game and really don’t care about it, but one gameplay mechanic really caught my attention: The ability to mimic touchscreen controls simply by using the Joy-Con like a Wii Remote to draw things on the screen. At a high level, this means that more touchscreen-centered games are likely to appear on the Nintendo Switch. There’s one that stands out for me in particular: Super Mario Maker Switch. It’s totally coming, and my money’s on 2019.
  • Sushi Striker: The Way Of Sushido: Yeah, this one’s not my cup of tea. I prefer my puzzle battlers to be a bit more puzzle than battle. Still, the presentation is good, it’s the sort of off-the-wall concept that only Nintendo can bring to the table. (Also, it’s a dual Switch/3DS release, so more love for the two-screened wonder!)
  • Octopath Traveler: I’d mostly forgotten about this game after trying out the demo, but I’m still interested in how it takes shape. The two new travelers seem like solid additions to the cast, and I like the idea of heroes dual-classing into different occupations. With a July release date and no major first-party titles in that Q2/Q3 slot (yet), this could wind up being my game of the summer.
  • Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes: Wasn’t this franchise touted at the initial Switch reveal way back when? It looks a bit too Fire Emblem/Hyrule Warriors-esque for my taste, but with so many different game types, there’s probably at least one thing for everyone here.
  • Dark Souls: Remastered: Meh. I’m no more interested in this game than I was during the last Direct. Even amongst amiibo, the Solaire of Astora one stands out as seeming particularly useless.
  • Mario Tennis Aces: I’m torn on this one. I’ve never been particularly interested in Mario tennis games, but I’ve enjoyed different sports games in the past (golf, baseball, etc.) and Aces really stands out for its strategic depth. (Plus, the courts are way more varied than in Ultra Smash for the Wii U.) It’s a game that should really benefit from its pre-launch online tournament, giving it a chance to win over skeptical players like myself.
  • Captain Toad Treasure Tracker: I’m pleasantly surprised to see this here, as the original Wii U version deserved better than to be left on a forgotten system. More touchscreen simulation plus a dual Switch/3DS release means the ground-bound captain will finally get the attention he deserves. If you haven’t played the original, this one is definitely worth your time.
  • Undertale: This is when things started to get real. Undertale is a massive get for the Switch, even if it’s a few years late (and let’s hope “eventually” isn’t too long a wait). It’s a unique take on the RPG genre, and features some truly outstanding characters and mechanics.
  • Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy: For those of us old enough to remember the Mario/Sonic/Crash mascot wars of the 90s, finding them all on a single system is mind-blowing. The original Crash Bandicoot games had their flaws, but they were decent platformers that helped launch the Playstation into the stratosphere way back when. Aging Nintendo partisans now have the opportunity to try out all those games they boycotted decades ago, and that’s a good thing in my book.
  • Little Nightmares: Complete Edition: Meh. Looks like some decent puzzle/platform challenges, but the vibe’s a bit creepy for my tastes.
  • South Park: The Fractured But Whole: This is a game that I’ve heard a lot of buzz about, but didn’t really know anything about it until now. The battle system seems to be a cross between Fire Emblem and the Mario & Luigi series, incorporating both positioning and timing into attacks. It doesn’t quite piqe my interest enough to buy it, but it’s another cross-platform game to fill out the Switch’s third-party lineup.
  • Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition: I still don’t care about this franchise, but this should at least excite people who do.
  • ARMS Online Open and Testpunch: On one hand, I’m happy that Nintendo hasn’t given up this game, and is trying to overcome their mistake of shoehorning into its 2017 Switch lineup by trying to draw new players in and giving hardcore players a chance to show off their skills. On the other hand, nothing I saw here makes me any more interested in giving the game another try. Sorry ARMS, but you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
  • Splatoon 2 v3.0: I’m always happy to have new gear to buy, and while I was wrong about Piranha Pit and Camp Triggerfish not returning, I enjoyed them both (especially the Pit) and I’m happy to see them back. I don’t play ranked battles enough to care about the X rank, but I’ve heard some skilled players rave about breaking through the S+ logjam, and having Callie back in any capacity is a win. This would be a decent update by itself, but it didn’t come alone…
  • Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion: This was a stroke of financial genius on Nintendo’s part: People have been demanding playable Octolings for years, and most won’t bat an eyelash at dropping $20 for the privilege (especially given the amount of free content the game has gotten, and the fact that you get a full-fledged single-player Octoling campaign for the money). It’s a great opportunity to dig deeper into Splatoon lore, flesh out Pearl and Marina’s characters a bit more, and add even more replay value to the game. I was saying” Okay,this might be the big ending reveal, and I’m okay with that,” and then…
  • Super Smash Brothers + Inklings: Having SSB show up wasn’t a huge surprise (I’ve heard some chatter of about it being the game that launched alongside paid online services), but it’s always nice to have some confirmation. My Super Smash days are long behind me, but this is a huge tentpole franchise that will generate hype, get people talking, and be the final nail in the coffin of the Wii U.

Again, this was a strong presentation that did exactly what it needed to: It laid out the future of the 3DS (mostly low-effort ports from here on out), offered more evidence that third-party developers want in on this cash cow, provided some clarity for the Switch’s 2108 lineup (but where’s Yoshi?), and produced enough hype and excitement to get Nintendo out of the lull it started the year in. Its presentations can vary in quality from Direct to Direct, but the Big N did a really nice job this time around.

My only question now: What’s left for E3? (Metroid Prime 4 plz)

Dragon Quest Builders: Is It Worth Buying?

Before the power goes out and I get buried in a mountain of snow, let’s take another moment to discuss Dragon Quest Builders, shall we?

The TL;DR version of this post is that pretty much everything I said in my early impression post remained true throughout my extended playthrough. The graphics still look amazing, the character design remains inspired and amusing, and the combat system still feels a bit clunky. The biggest change I saw as I finished chapter 1 and moved into Chapter 2 of my playthrough was how the speed and intensity of the game seemed to pick up:

  • In the tainted land of Rimuldar, the monsters don’t mess around: More of them aggressively attack you upon sight, and they attack your base more often and in greater numbers. You’ve still got a lot of allies to aid you in battle, but when they’re all sleeping, you end up going 4-v-1 against the enemy (it never turned out well in Splatoon, and it doesn’t turn out well here either). You learn pretty quickly to avoid doing anything at night and invest plenty of time in fortifying your base (I even went so far as to build a poison moat around my town).
  • As much as I enjoyed the story behind Chapter 1, battling the plague in Chapter 2 was even more compelling (and addictive), and I spent several hours just saying “One more quest, one more building, one more this, one more that, etc.” Stories and side quests are the main thing that classic Minecraft lacks, and this game is much more fun to play as a result.
  • There’s a lot more exploring in Chapter 2, and you’ll find yourself traipsing all over the countryside looking for rare materials and building blocks. Fishing and farming mechanics are also introduced here, and while the latter makes harvesting materials easier, looking for rare fish is only slightly less aggravating than looking for Feebas in Pokémon.
  • FWIW: I’ve spent a ton of time traveling recently (hence why this Wednesday post is my first of the week), and DQB plays as well on the small Switch screen as it does on a TV. That’s not something every Switch game can say (looking at you, NBA 2K18).
  • You get some new blueprints for your town in Chapter 2, but the size of your base isn’t much bigger (if at all) than in Chapter 1. It forces you to build up your base vertically, which can be kind of a pain when it obscures your view of an important room on the ground floor (and is doubly annoying when you have to rebuild it after a monster attack). Hopefully you get a bit more space to expand in later chapters.
  • There are certain mechanics that don’t really serve a purpose besides “Oh, Minecraft has it, so we should too.” Things like the day/night cycle and the hunger meter don’t seem to add anything beyond an added degree of difficulty, which doesn’t feel like enough to justify their experience.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed my time with Dragon Quest Builders (and I haven’t even tried Terra Incognita out yet, which is the game’s version of Minecraft’s creative mode), and would totally recommend picking it up and trying it out if you’re interested. (As an added bonus, the game retails for $50 instead of the usual $60.) If you’re looking to kill some time between first-party Switch titles, you could do a lot worse than DQB.

Splendor: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from Amazon

Sometimes, even video game addicts needs a detox.

While traveling to visit relatives (that are decidedly non-video-gamers) over the weekend, I got the opportunity to play a couple of board games (none of which actually included a board) in lieu of my Switch and 3DS. Some of these, such as Dominion, were games I’d played before and had existed for some time, but an unexpected game that caught my attention was Splendor, a 2014 that pits players against one another in a race to collect as much bling as possible to earn respect from the powers that be.

The actual mechanics of each turn are fairly simple: Either you obtain currency, or you spend it. The game has five primary currencies (diamonds, rubies, emeralds, onyxes, and sapphires, as well as wild “joker” tokens) and two methods of obtaining them: You can pick up tokens that represent them, or you can purchase cards that represent them. The latter method is the preferred one for several reasons:

  • Token stones that are spend must be returned for other players to pick them up, whereas card stones stay with you for the entire game once purchased.
  • Some card stones grant a certain number of “victory points” to their holder. It takes fifteen victory points to win the game, so every one you grab is valuable.
  • There are also “nobles” who will join your side if you are the first to obtain a certain number of different stones. These nobles also bring a fair number of victory points with them, and the person who successfully courts the most of them usually winds up winning.

It’s really a simple game to learn and understand, but it leads to some surprisingly complex strategies. Should I buy lower-priced cards (usually with fewer victory points) or save up for expensive ones? Should I collect a variety of currencies or focus on hoarding one or two? Which currencies do the current nobles favor, and which nobles should I target? Because different nobles and different cards are used for each match, players are forced to adapt to the changing landscape if they wish to taste victory.

Evaluating a game like this is a bit of a challenge from a video game perspective: There are no graphics to evaluate, no grand story to get swept up in, and the character design is only as good as the wittiness of your fellow players. It really boils down to the following questions:

  • How hard is it to learn? Splendor is a game that is easy to learn, but hard to master. I was able to pickup and play the game in a few minutes, but thinking through the above strategic questions and evaluating the various paths to victory took a few games. In truth, I found the game to be a lot like chess, as you really need to think several moves ahead before taking action.
  • Is it engaging/fun? Part of this is dependent on the players you’re taking on (no one likes a rage quitter), but I really enjoyed my short time with the game. What’s most amazing about Splendor is that I liked it despite losing nearly every match to a single highly-skilled player (and the only game I won was by cheating: When said highly-skilled player had to get up from the table to feed his infant daughter, the rest of us played several turns in his absence.). When a game can hook you even if you’re losing, that’s either a) impressive or b) illegal outside of Nevada or Louisiana.

Splendor retails anywhere from $30-$40, which makes it both as expensive and as engaging as a good 3DS game. While having a group of friends to play with is an absolute must (there is an online version, but nothing can replace the friendly table banter, right?), if you’re looking for a fun multiplayer game with some decent replay value, this game is worth checking out.

Now for the big question: When’s the Switch port coming? 🙂

Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Early Impressions

Image from comicbook.com

You can’t judge a game by its first two hours, but you can fault it for making a really poor first impression.

Despite carrying the “baggage” of being a JRPG and competing with Mario, Link, and Pikachu for attention, the Xenoblade Chronicles series has become yet another successful Nintendo franchise, with both the original Wii title and its spiritual successor Xenoblade Chronicles X earning both critical acclaim and commercial success (or at least as much commercial success as a Wii U title can). This success earned the series a place in Nintendo’s vaunted first-year Switch lineup, as Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was given a spot beside Super Mario Odyssey in the company’s 2017 holiday lineup.

I’ve never actually played any of the Xenoblade games, but I recently got the opportunity to observe a friend go through the first few hours of gameplay, and…honestly, it could have gone a lot better. I understand that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a huge, ambitious game that needs to deliver a lot of information during the opening episodes, but it drowns the player in so many tutorials and cutscenes that it honestly feels like you’re watching a movie rather than playing the game.

Some of my specific thoughts on the game:

  • The game promises to offer an open-world experience, and while it certainly looks the part (the graphics are sharp and detailed), the first few worlds felt more like the sandboxes of Super Mario Odyssey than the vast expanse that was Hyrule in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. There are a lot of restrictive obstacles and no way to traverse them (Rex jumps higher than Link, but lacks his climbing skills), and the area layouts felt more linear than they should have been. With games like Skyrim and Breath of the Wild setting a higher standard for “open-world” games, I’m not sure XC2 qualifies.
  • The amount of breaks in the action for tutorials and cutscenes is just aggravating. It felt like we spent at least 50% of our gameplay time sitting around watching things happen. There were even several moments where a long cutscene ended, the player was allowed to walk about fifty feet, and then another long cutscene ensued. Why even give control back to the player if they would barely be allowed to move? I know there’s a lot of data to digest and story to tell in the beginning, but there had to be a better, more-engaging way to deliver it all.
  • Given all the cutscenes we had to watch, the good news is that they were at least fairly epic and entertaining (although the voice acting didn’t always match the intensity of the scene, and was sometimes drowned out by the background music). The character design thus far feels like a net positive, with unambiguously good and evil characters that generate sympathy and/or emotion as they interact. I just wish they didn’t repeat combat phrases so often in battle: If XC2 were more popular, Pyra’s “Our emotions are in tune!” line would have become the next “arrow to the knee” meme by now.
  • Combat here is a strange mix of Secret of ManaMiitopia, and the Mario & Luigi series, and it’s not terribly satisfying. The fights occur in real time,  and both players and enemies can move freely about the battlefield without restriction. Basic combat involves drawing your weapon, walking up to an enemy, and pressing A to start automatically attacking it. Basic attacks are fairly slow and don’t require any user input, but these attacks will charge up your character’s “Driver Arts,” or special moves that deal extra damage or produce other effects. In turn, using these Arts charge up your character’s final ability (which can be charge up to four levels), and unleashing it requires you to press a button at a certain time for maximum effect. (There are also ways to chain attacks together between different party members, but we did not encounter this in our playthrough.) In theory, battles are a delicate choreography between Drivers (playable characters) and their Blades (weapon manifestations with different elemental types and abilities), but in reality, you’re mostly sitting around waiting to hit buttons at the right time.
  • The controls for this game are surprisingly loose, and there are more technical issues (especially with respect to collision detection) than there should be. Aerial movements (either jumping or falling) are annoyingly floaty, and make the few small platforming challenges that you encounter a real pain to complete. We also witnessed a few bizarre moments in battle, with Rex entering auto-attack mode and slicing an enemy despite them being a) nowhere near Rex on the ground or b) high above Rex’s head.

I wasn’t playing XC2, but if I had been, would I have been motivated to keep going? To be honest, I’m not sure: I’ve always been a sucker for cool stories and good character design, but this combat system would have made me pull out what little hair I have left. For the moment, I’m filing this under the same category as Kirby Battle Royale: It’s not interesting enough to pursure further, but I don’t have enough info to offer an offical ‘buy’ or ‘don’t buy’ recommendation. My Switch game budget will be going towards Dragon Quest Builders instead.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe: Is It Worth Buying?

Image From Nintendo UK

Now that Nintendo is on record saying the 3DS isn’t going anywhere for a while, I think it’s time to dig into the system’s back catalog and revisit some classic titles to see if they still deserve your love/dollars. For my money, there’s no better place to start than everyone’s favorite amorphous pink ball of death Jigglypuff Kirby!

The dirty secret of the Kirby franchise is that its mainline games are incredibly formulaic: flying, copying abilities, simple gameplay with minimal challenge, a sudden stake-raising moment at the end that leads to an epic boss fight, and some tough-as-nails postgame content. Once you’ve played one of these games, you’ve basically played them all, give or take an occasional title-specific gimmick (I’m still waiting for playable Nago to come back). “Formulaic,” however, does not mean “not fun to play,” and in general Kirby games inhabit that same magical place that Pokémon games do: You might do the same thing 100 times, but it’s just as fun to do the last time as it is the first.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe was the pink puffball’s first foray onto the 3DS (outside of a bunch of Virtual Console releases), and it’s exactly what you’d expect a Kirby  game to be. A few new copy abilities have been introduced (Archer being the most useful for its range, but also Beetle, Bell, and Circus), and aside from Sleep (which is meant to be a trap), all of them end up having enough utility to grab in a pinch. There are a few small puzzles scattered around the game (mostly tied to the collectables, and some of which make use of the 3DS’s gyro controls), but by and large it’s your typical Kirby platforming experience, with the usual level and enemy design (most of the mini-bosses have been around since Kirby’s Adventure, and Whispy Woods, Kracko, and King DeDeDe all return as world bosses).

Triple Deluxe‘s primary gimmick the Hypernova ability, which increases Kirby’s suction power and lets him inhale bosses, large objects and even pieces of the background in a single gulp. It only appears in certain stages, but it fits seamlessly within the rest of the gameplay and was a ton of fun to use (inhaling four mini-bosses in one go was particularly cathartic). I actually preferred Hypernova to the robot armor of Planet Robobot (it felt more natural and didn’t restrict the rest of Kirby’s moveset), but it led to an ending sequence that didn’t feel as satisfying.

There are two primary collectibles to find here: Sun stones, which unlock secret stages within each world, and “keychains” of different characters from past Kirby games. They’re not terribly hard to find (although locating the rare keychains make take a bit of sleuthing), and aside from the boss stages requiring a certain number of stones to unlock, they don’t impact the gameplay at all.

The game comes with two additional game modes from the start: Kirby Fighters, which is basically a watered-down version of Kirby Battle Royale (which I wasn’t that impressed with), and Dedede’s Drum Dash, a rhythm that forces you to bounce along a drum course while collecting coins, avoiding enemies, and clapping along with the beat. Neither minigame is worth writing home about, but they do seem to be required for a 100% completion rating. The unlockable modes, however, are a bit more interesting:

  • Dededetour: Lets you play through a harder version of the main campaign as King Dedede.
  • The Arena: The usual Kirby boss rush with limited health and abilities.
  • The True Arena: The usual Kirby boss rush, but with the harder version of the bosses from Dededetour. This is where things get real.

For those of you looking for a bit more pain and challenge from your Kirby experience, this’ll cover you.

Given all this, we need to answer the following questions:

  • Is this game worth buying? If you’re a fan of Kirby or platforming in general, yes. This game delivers everything you want from a 2D platformer, including (eventually) a nasty-hard test of mettle. It’s a game I would especially recommend for younger or newer players, as a) Kirby’s flight ability let you bypass any non-boss situation you might have trouble with, and b) it’s a gently-sloped difficulty curve that’s much more considerate of your ego/confidence level than a game like Breath of the Wild.
  • Should I buy this game or Planet Robobot? From a gameplay perspective, it’s a “six of one, a half dozen of the other” situation. Outside of a few tweaks, the game are basically the exact same. However, there is one notable meta difference: As a “Nintendo Select” title, Triple Deluxe now retails for half the price of Planet Robobot ($20 as compared to $40). If you only want one of the two, Triple Deluxe is definitely the better value.

As someone who hadn’t played a Kirby title since Kirby’s Dream Land 3, I really enjoyed both Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot. Both were great experiences, but Triple Deluxe‘s reduced price make it a much better investment. (Now let’s see if Kirby: Star Allies can meet the same standard.)